Elizabeth Kirschner





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     Soon, I enter a psych ward, one of the ones I’m so good at staying out of, cross the red line. The walls are yellow, like old cellophane, the floor tiles, dull as grey nail heads. The air smells of old tears, tears that have scabbed over. I’m here to do art therapy in the community room. Here, the staticky TV is on and the inmates are scattered on the sofa and chairs like crash dummies. Pinned to the community board is a quote from Goethe, the one I had copied, years before, when also in the lock-up, to paste into a journal full of inspiring pictures and sayings I made for Ryan in Arts and Craft.

     I read it aloud, “Whatever you do, or dream you can, BEGIN IT NOW, boldness has genius, power and magic in it: BEGIN IT NOW.” I look around the room in this holding tank for the damned, don’t see a whole lot of boldness or genius before me. Instead, I’m thinking that if fish could be depressed, then I’m in a dime store bowl full of depressed fish. Faces bob, go under, bob again.

     “Time to sit in a circle and hold hands,” I say to these unhappy campers while wishing I had a plastic sit-upon for each one. I look at them, poor, heavy as gravestones, but here, in the lock-up, you do what you are told. Not doing so can isolate you in your room, or worse, it can mean having an armed guard outside your door, so down go the rumps--big ones, scrawny ones, old ones, young ones.

     The ward is a true democracy--we’re equals in that the Screamer is the same as the Pacer as is the Cutter--but the keepers are dictators. No sharps or cords, room checks every ten minutes, even at night and our doors are always left open.

     “Now hold hands.” I say, as though we’re in Romper Room. These do-bees lace their fingers together like gnarly daisy chains.

     “Do you remember the song I taught you?” I go on and receive slow, dopey nods. “Okay, let’s sing it.”

     I start up, “Boom, boom.” A few crackly voices join in--these inmates, these do-bees really do remember.

     “Boom, boom,” we all chime, “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?” We pause, as if to place an exclamation point in a word bubble in the air between us.

     “Boom, boom,” we begin, again, “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy, boom, boom, ain’t it great to be nuts like us.”

     I hold up my hand, like a baton, for one emphatic moment, then resume, “Be silly and foolish all day long, boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?”

     We sound pretty good, even though we’re starkly off-key. “Again,” I say and the faces of these depressed fish start to lighten, even brighten. We sing the same verse over and over. “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?” Smiles appear on the blank chasms of the faces around me. “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be nuts like us?”

     The community room becomes aloft with a noisy luminosity. “Be silly and foolish all day long,” a spittle of laughter comes out. “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?” A few tooted guffaws. By the end of the next round, we’re all cracking up.

     Suddenly, it’s incredibly funny to be crazy. It’s stupidly funny to be crazy and nuts like us. It’s even loonier to sing about how great it is to be silly, crazy and nuts like us. Laughing about being crazy has genius and power and magic in it. Certainly, boom, boom, it is bold.


I. Cuckoo

Why do I love the winter garden so?
Is it because I hear the dirge

of dirt, elegy of vanquished blossoms?
Whatever emerges at season’s end

comes from a harrowing heaven: yesterday,
I believed I was a wooden woman

with a wooden heart the wolves
would tear apart. I jerked

about like a marionette with
tangled strings—slash of claws, teeth

sinking in to rip the flesh off
my wooden bones. When I was four

years old, my mother pummeled
the back of my head with a baseball bat.

I remember the pain. I remember
hitting the floor like a scarecrow

that was a heap of broken straw.
This is why I love the winter garden so:

energy of enigma. Icy blossoms.



I feel the euphoria of clouds
whose entire essence is to be
a vessel for this full-bodied light.
They move like slow swans
across the summer sky.

I feel the palpitations of shadows
which leave their dark perfume
in the very woods I walk in, shadows
which lengthen while falling in love
with time.

The descants of evening are resounding.
The leaves are murmuring,
"sweetness so much sweetness
unbearable in its weightlessness."

I breathe it in
and all the old lullabies

Safe now, it is safe
just to be.

Elizabeth Kirschner announces the publication of her new memoir, WAKING
THE BONES, forthcoming in winter, 2015, from THE PISCATAQUA PRESS,
Portsmouth, NH. Book launch, Riverrun Bookstore, Portsmouth, TBA.

Excerpts from this book, often in earlier versions, may be found at:


Copyright © Elizabeth Kirschner 2014• For personal use only • All rights reserved